The AD buying/marketing group held its third annual eCommerce summit earlier this year in Fort Worth, Texas, drawing a record crowd of 280 from seven AD industries. BNP Media Plumbing Group Editorial Director Mike Miazga sat down with AD Vice President eCommerce Solutions Caroline Ernst in Fort Worth to talk about the group’s continued push into eCommerce, the progress it has made since the 2018 summit in Denver, and why AD members have a distinct advantage in this space.


Supply House Times: What has changed in terms of AD’s eCommerce initiative since the 2018 summit in Denver?

CE: AD members’ eCommerce expectations continue to increase. Our collaborative financial investment enables us to deliver millions of SKUs of attributed data that members can acquire for pennies per SKUs rather than dollars. Our product catalog will reach five million SKUs by the end of the year. What’s changed is that members are using foundational content and looking to see what is next, asking themselves: How can I make the customer experience even better? What are my customers’ needs and how do I transform our overall business to meet their needs? Launching is the first step of the eCommerce journey.


How vital is an eCommerce platform to AD members?

CE: eCommerce is a strategic initiative for AD member companies and vital for the companies of the future. We provide the guidance our members need to craft an eCommerce strategy that fits their goals and their way of doing business. We can also help streamline their eCommerce workflow, integrating a member’s ERP software and their web store with our eCommerce platform. From training and digital content mapping to developing launch plans and a digital marketing strategy, we ensure that members start off strong and stay that way. Future programs will depend on what our members want and need. All our programs come from requests from our members. We have built a solid foundation, and are ready to take on whatever our distributors need in the future.


What trends are you seeing in the marketplace right now that might have your members on high alert?

CE: Disruption is the new normal. AD members are exploring how to innovate and accelerate adoption. They are building the organizational muscle to deliver on customer experience. Most importantly, AD members take a customer-centric approach to their business and adapt according to serving their market.


What do you say to the pushback about an eCommerce strategy being expensive on the front end?

CE: AD members start with an eCommerce strategy — understand the desired business outcomes from the initiatives and define them at the beginning. The ROI should be modeled as part of the strategy. Are your eCommerce initiatives centered around self-service, digital sales, product discovery and/or customer engagement? The eCommerce strategy outlines where you want to be and how to get there: your objectives, tactics and measurement plan. How do you deliver the desired results back to the business, understanding that you are in a state of continual improvement? As our keynote speaker Jay McBain from Forrester says, “You are hitting singles, you are learning and improving. With any business strategy you set it, but you don’t forget it.”


Do AD distributors already have a competitive advantage in this space?

CE: Yes! Independent distributors have a competitive advantage in their expertise, locality, flexibility and comprehensive understanding of the market. They serve local customers with personal service and offer “buy online, pick up in store” options and customized online capabilities. Customers can see the inventory status, so they can pick up at a local branch before heading to the jobsite. That’s a competitive advantage. Amazon can fulfill the easy pick, pack and ship items, but AD distributors have the competitive advantage within their local markets with local expertise.